Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The YouTube Audition: Three Klezmer Videos

I think this is obvious, but is worth mentioning. Every video of a band on YouTube, whether put there by the band or not, is an audition for the band's next gig. The thing is, if you've seen as many videos as I have you'd realize that either band's don't understand this or haven't thought it through. So, being the ever helpful fellow I am (helpful meaning self-appointed know-it-all), I thought I'd offer some suggestions.

But first let me provide some context. The volunteer committee that helms the Detroit JCC's Stephen Gottlieb Music Fest is about the best gang of folks you could hope to work with. And two weeks ago we were in rare form. After going through some general planning discussions about the upcoming Adat Cohen (last week), Mandy Patinkin (September) and Chava Alberstein shows (January), we started in on next March's full festival lineup. Since I'm a helpful guy (see definition of helpful above), I was prepared with a pile of videos that I'd collected and that had been suggested by others on the committee. We had a great discussion and I remember leaving it wishing that all those bands hoping to play festival gigs could have been a fly on the wall. Oh yeah. I write a blog. They can be.

To simplifying things, I'm not going to talk through all the videos we watched. I'm just going to use some video's by some great regional klezmer bands as my examples. I've never seen any of them play live (shame on me), but know band members from each. I personally enjoyed each of the videos and hope that I can book each of them either this coming festival or a future one. I hope none of them mind using them as examples.

First up was the Michigan State Klezmorim.

Good stuff. Lyrical, stately, lovely. Easy to imagine them playing a private party or small club or restaurant. What happened when I played the video? I was immediately asked if they could play uptempo. You see, we're a big festival with a big stage and are envisioning a more uptempo affair, possibly with dancing. This video just didn't match the committee's vision of the event. Unfortunately, this is the only MSK video I could find.

Observation #1. I know videos take time and effort to put together; but if you want more than one kind of gig you need to have more than one video available. Make sure that there are enough videos that one of them will make us say "Yeah..I want them to do that for me!"

Second was the Heartland Klezmorim.

Ok. This was more like it. Good bouncy klezmer. The band was up on stage, obviously playing a festival gig. But iffy sound quality didn't help show off the band's musical ability and the band's tight, straight up playing didn't show off their stage presence. There is more than one Heartland video, but this was pretty representative...good band, but based solely on this video, are they good enough?

Observation #2. Just because the musicians are good, doesn't mean the video will be a winner. I'm not sure if the video was commissioned by the band or shot by a fan at the show, but either way this video didn't do Heartland justice. Having videos of your band playing gigs in front of happy fans is a good thing. But also make sure there are some videos with good sound and good camera work that really show off your musicianship and stage presence.

Last was the Chicago's Maxwell Street Klezmer

This was the best received video of the set. Good (enough) sound and lights, clear and evident musicianship, lots of stage presence. It was really easy to imagine what they'd look and sound like on our festival stage. Equally important, Maxwell Street has 25 videos put online by the band, as well as others by fans. It made it easy for me to find one or two more that confirmed their abilities.

Observation #3. A little show goes a long way. Ok, so the clarinet vs violin shtick is a bit theatric. But the relaxed, casual, control that the band shows as they goof around onstage makes them look like professional entertainers. For a festival gig, that's a good thing. We're looking for entertainers as much as artists. So bands, if you're going to shoot a video... make sure you're doing something that will look good on film. Make me want to see it live.

So to recap... bands, your videos are your audition performances. Even if you don't intended them to be. So put some thought into them, make sure you're showcasing your variety and musicianship and ability to entertain.


Will said...

Thanks from the Michigan State Klezmorim for the mention! You are absolutely correct that a video online is an audition video, and unfortunately that video is the only one from that (very early) gig that came out. The good news is that I hope to have some more up-tempo stuff on YouTube soon. We've been in touch with the fine folks at Michigan Music Monthly:

and will be working with them in the very near future to produce a professionally edited video that features the whole range of what we do. I'll keep you posted!

Thanks again!

Jack said...

Will, sounds great. I'm looking forward to seeing the new vids. And to seeing you live, which is much better than video :)

Rob Raede said...

It sounds like the only style of music the committee is considering is klezmer...too bad. There's so much more to contemporary Jewish music these days than just camp, cantorial, and klezmer.

Jack said...

Hi Rob,

Where did you get that idea that we're only showcasing klezmer? I just said that I was going to focus this blog post on klezmer. The Detroit JCC's music fest showcases a really wide range of music. This past year we had Israel performer David Broza and American songbook composer Marvin Hamlsich, we had a Progressive Music Showcase with hip-hop performer Y-love, the avant-jazz band Pitom, and the 'bible-gum' pop duo Stereo Sinai. We had Amy Yazzinger, a jazz singer from Chicago, a family show with Mark Bloom, and a fantastic cantor's concert and a chamber orchestra perform a variety of music including Russian Jewish composers.

In fact, one of the reasons we're excited to have a klezmer band this year is because we haven't had one in about three years. We've just started working on this year's line up, but I can assure you it will be just as diverse as last years.

Check out the website for more details.

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